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Has Israel won the battle of the Flag March?

May 20, 2023 at 4:30 pm

Fanatic Jewish settlers holding Israeli flags take part in an annual flag day march passing through the Damascus Gate to Old City of Jerusalem [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Since 1968, Israelis have been parading through the occupied holy city of Jerusalem, celebrating the occupation of the eastern part of the historical Palestinian city in 1967, after the western part was occupied in 1948.

Initially, a wide range of Israelis took part in the parade; however, through time, the parade turned into a Jewish religious show for only the extremist nationalist Jews who insisted on passing through the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem with racist chants, including “Prophet Mohammad died (PBUH)”, “death to Arabs” and “may your villages burn.”

The provocative parade, which accompanies mass raids of Al-Aqsa Mosque, closures of Palestinian shops, evacuations of Palestinians from Jerusalem and violent attacks against Palestinians, triggered a response by the Palestinians in 2021 as the Palestinian resistance in Gaza threatened to launch rockets towards Jerusalem should the participants provoke the Palestinians.

Arrogant Israeli Jewish nationalists, backed by the Israeli government, attacked the Palestinians and raided Al-Aqsa Mosque, prompting a rocket fire from Gaza two hours after the start of the parade. Rocket sirens sounded in Jerusalem, and the participants vanished, which marked the beginning of an Israeli offensive on Gaza that lasted ten days.

According to a United Nations (UN) and Human Rights Watch report, 260 people were killed during the Israeli offensive, including 66 children and 40 women. About 2,000 others were wounded. Hundreds of thousands were internally displaced as the Israeli Air Force bombed several high-rise residential buildings and destroyed a whole neighbourhood in Al-Rimal.

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That incident turned the Flag March into a political affair through which Israel flexed its muscles and proved its superiority over the Palestinian resistance. Over 3,000 Israeli police and over 2,000 other security personnel were mobilised to secure the participants.

US President Joe Biden’s administration, in order to avoid friction with the Palestinians, urged Israel to change the route of the march and avoid the Muslim Quarter. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that the procession would not change its course.

The Palestinian Resistance Movement Hamas called on Palestinians to gather as many as possible for prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Joint Room for the Palestinian Resistance Factions threatened the Israeli occupation government over the consequences of the parade, which witnessed official government participation.

Members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, including extremist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Negev and Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf and ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem Minister Meir Porush, took part in the march. In addition, a number of Jewish MKs also participated.

The parade, which Israel insisted was a show of its sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem, put Israel in a state of high alert for several days – before, during and after the march. Besides the deployment of thousands of security personnel, Israel positioned three types of air defence systems – the Iron Dome, David Sling and Arrow, or Hetz.

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Israel closed almost all the occupied West Bank cities to reduce the number of Palestinians planning to reach the holy city, completely closed the streets and businesses in the Old City and prevented anyone not Jewish from appearing along the parade route. Those who appeared, including the elderly and residents of the Old City, were violently attacked and cleared from the route.

However, the Israelis say they celebrated the unification of their capital, that they needed all forms of security measures and used all political and diplomatic power at their disposal as they asked Egypt and other parties to plead with Hamas not to fire rockets into Israel during the parade.

Speaking to the media, Israeli officials said that if the Palestinian resistance fired any rockets during the Flag March, it would pound Gaza with an “unprecedented” response. Meanwhile, they sent secret messages below the table through the mediators begging Hamas to let the Flag March pass without any response from Gaza because Israel is not ready for an escalation.

Israel’s Hadashot news outlet reported Netanyahu speaking to the Egyptians, informing them that Israel was not interested in an escalation. A source from Hamas confirmed this by saying that the message was: “Do not violate Israel’s sovereignty during the Flag March so that we do not pound Gaza with an unprecedented response because we are not interested in this as you are not interested in it.”

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When has Israel used this language? When has Israel said it would not attack the Palestinians because it is not interested in being attacked? It is a new message. It is the language of the weak government, the language of the feeble prime minister, the language of a state with a defeated army.

The occupation state, which celebrates the unification of its capital, must not be afraid. Such a celebration must go on without such security preparations if the celebrants are confident in themselves, their sovereignty and their power. Such celebration, organised and carried out amidst fear of unwanted consequences, reflects the weakness of the organisers.

Such a celebration, which required the suppression of the Palestinians and Muslims and needed their forcible disappearance from the scenes, reflects the lack of ownership and the lack of connection to the place itself. Such a celebration does not reflect historical or religious links to the holy city, nor political or sovereign links.

In order to hide from the real opponent – the indigenous population of Jerusalem – Israel insisted on reflecting that its opponent in this battle is the Palestinian resistance in Gaza. Despite the fact that the battle was one-sided, Israel lost it because its real opponent, the Jerusalemites, were not defeated. They are still there: living, working, praying, sticking to their rights and fighting the intruders.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.